Sunday, October 11, 2009

High-volume spay and neuter is our area's biggest need

Miles to go

It is not news to anyone that our community has a long way to go before we reach the kind of high-volume spay and neuter that will start to make a real dent in our companion-animal overpopulation numbers. I have been working the past few months on the ACTion Programs for Animals pet food bank, and it is obvious that we in animal welfare are not reaching the common masses with a message that is getting through to them about the urgency of our situation and how their individual actions (or inactions) are part of a cumulative problem that leads to the death of nearly 800-1,000 animals in our shelter each month.

Most people do not spay/neuter their pets due to the cost prohibitiveness of the surgery as well as a handful of other reasons, such as myths that have been passed onto them for generations or because they do not make the connection from their animals having litters to those thousands dying every year at our shelter. They say they find the puppies or kittens "good homes", but they don't think about what happens when those homes also do not fix their pets. It's a generational and cumulative issue that is not easy to change or tackle overnight. There are also many backyard breeders in our community as well, and we need to think of creative yet sound approaches to this problem, too.

Many animal-welfare activists call for mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) as the supposed easy answer. However, myself and other progressive animal-welfare activists strongly oppose MSN. The reasons are many. If you do your research and read the details about areas where MSN has been attempted, you see that laws and enforcement are not a simple answer either. These laws often have detrimental affects in a community, too, and not ones that animal people anticipate. If you pass and strictly enforce via Animal Control the MSN laws without having the services and support to back it up or without sanely getting people to comply with the laws, all you will end up with is more and more dead animals each year at your shelter and the same problems. People who don't obey laws will continue not doing so. If only it were that easy!

The point is to reach people in ways that start affecting future generations and start breaking down the myths and getting people in different demographics to see the connections between their actions and the issues we face. The best medicine is to engage with leaders in communities to carry the message for you. We need strong outreach and PR to do this. If you inundate the community with a smart PR effort, and then you back this up with plenty of avenues and choices for them to fix their animals, that's the only recipe that has ever worked. In areas where this is tried vs. MSN, the outcomes have been extraordinary. In this sense, it is incumbent for all in animal welfare to do their homework and learn from the mistakes and successes of others before pushing for changes in our community.

The kind of outreach we are doing with efforts like the pet food bank and pet help lines is important, but it is not going to make a huge difference overnight. We need to seriously pump up the volume of spay/neuter in our community, but to do that, we need to first work toward more services and facilities that can meet our area's demand.

The following is a link to a very important article out of the July/August 2009 Animal Sheltering magazine. Comparing our situation to that of the Gulf Coast region is not that far of a stretch, and their approach and successes in the last few years since Katrina speaks to the level of need in the Borderland as well-- for both El Paso County and Dona Ana County. Until our community starts tackling this issue with this level of effort, we will continue to see our landfills piled high with bodies of unwanted animals. That's the bottom line.

Read the full article here:

SAVING LIVES in the Gulf Coast: Groundbreaking spay/neuter initiative spells hope for homeless animals nationwide

The Shelter Pet Project has launched

At the end of September, the joint campaign effort by The Ad Council, Maddie's Fund, and the HSUS was launched. It features national ads and PSAs that encourage anyone looking for a new pet to adopt them from animal shelters and rescue groups vs. alternatives.

Though we still put down about 4 million pets a year nationally at shelters, studies led by Maddie's Fund show that more people each year are looking to add a new pet into their families than those that get put down. Many are what they call "swing voters"; they are not sure where they might get their next pet from, so Maddie's and their partners are trying to dispel some of the myths and fears that scare people away from shelters, such as assuming all animals that end up at shelters are damaged goods or have irreversible problems.

Some of the other things that run potential adopters off at shelters are the very shelters themselves, with too many not providing adequate customer service or adoption counseling. This campaign will also put pressure on all shelters to do a better job in these regards. As a result, Maddie's has also launched reward grants to shelters who have turned things around in their customer services. Anyone interested in learning more about this program can read about it at

When you are watching TV in the upcoming months, look for the humorous ads from The Shelter Pet Project. This is the first time The Ad Council has taken on an animal-welfare cause, so these ads should lead to more people going to look for their future pets at shelters instead of buying from pet stores or backyard breeders.

To find out more about the project, see the ads, and learn how you can help the No Kill movement, check out the website at